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slaves and slavery in the Bible

Introduction

The Gospel in its spirit and genius is hostile to human slavery, which under its influence, it disappeared in most areas of the world.

Slavery, as it existed under the Mosaic law, has no modern parallel. That law did not originate slavery, it only regulated the already existing custom of slavery (Exodus 21:20-21, 26-27; Leviticus 25:44-46; Joshua 9:6-27).

Does the Bible condone slavery? Answer

Bondservant

The word “bondservant” did not originate in Scripture. The first recorded use of the term “bond-servant” or “bondservant” was in the 16th century (1525-35 A.D.). It refers to a person who is obligated (bound) to serve (work) without being paid—a servant under obligation and not free to leave. Servants are hired; slaves are owned or in some way legally bound (by law or contract) to be controlled by another. Bondservants are slaves, perhaps voluntarily. A non-bonded servant is paid and is legally free to leave the service of his employer at anytime, unless the servant has signed some binding contractual agreement otherwise.

People in the Bible who were slaves

  • Joseph, the son of Jacob
  • the Hebrew people who were forced to be slaves by various people’s, including the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians
  • Onesimus
  • …and others

Revelation 18:13 KJV, NASB, ESV

Some translations of Revelation 18:13 use the word “slaves.”

…cargoes of horses and chariots and slaves and human lives. —Rev. 18:13 NASB

The original Greek word is σῶμα —transliteration: sóma —meaning: bodies; a body; the physical body

The New King James Version and various others say “bodies and souls of men.”

Slaves to sin

“Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” —John 8:34 ESV

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. —Titus 3:3 ESV

“…they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” —2 Peter 2:19 ESV

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” —Romans 6:16 ESV

Slaves of righteousness

Greek: δοῦλος —transliteration: doulos (occurs 126 times in Scripture) —meaning: a slave; someone who belongs to another

True followers of Jesus Christ are willing slaves to Him.

  • “…live as God’s slaves.” —1Peter 2:16 NIV
  • “…you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” —Romans 6:19 ESV
  • “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” —Galatians 2:20 ESV
  • Paul, Timothy, James, Peter, and Jude all describe themselves as slaves of Jesus Christ (some translations say “bondservants”) (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:1).

Dr. John MacArthur explains that,

Because we are “in Christ” (Romans 6:11; 8:1), and He died in our place (Romans 5:6-8), we are counted dead with Him. We are therefore dead to sin’s penalty and dominion. Death is permanent. Death and life are incompatible. So the person who has died to sin cannot continue living in iniquity.

Certainly we can commit sins, but we do not live anymore in the dimension of sin and under sin’s rule. Sin is contrary to our new disposition. “No one who is born of God practices sin,” according to [the Apostle] John, “because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9). It is not merely that we should not continue to live in unbroken sin but that we cannot. …dying to sin implies an abrupt, irreversible, wholesale break with the power of sin. —Dr. John F. MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles, pp. 113-114

See: What is Regeneration? And what is Sanctification?

Streaming video— 
Slaves for Christ
John F. MacArthur, Litt.D., D.D., Grace Community Church and The Master’s Seminary
Video by Grace to You
Length: 56 minutes
Streaming video— 
“The Greatness of Being a Slave”
Mark 10:35-45
John F. MacArthur, Litt.D., D.D., Grace Community Church and The Master’s Seminary
Video by Grace to You
Length: 54 minutes

Original language words

Hebrew: עֶבֶד —transliteration: ebed (occurs 800 times in Scripture) —meaning: slave, forced laborer, servant

Hebrew: עָבַד —transliteration: abad (occurs 289 times in Scripture) —meaning: to work, serve, labor, slave, vassal, to perform acts of worship (worshipper)

Hebrew: שִׁפְחָה —transliteration: shiphchah (occurs 63 times in Scripture) —meaning: maid, maidservant (as belonging to a mistress), handmaiden, female, female servant, bondwoman, woman-servant, slave girl, a female slave (as a member of the household)

Greek: δοῦλος —transliteration: doulos (occurs 126 times in Scripture) —meaning: a slave; someone who belongs to another

Greek: παιδίσκη —transliteration: paidiské (occurs 13 times in Scripture) —meaning: a girl; a young woman; a maid; a servant girl; a maidservant; a bondwoman; a female slave

Also see

Article Version: October 16, 2019